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The First Assignment -Response to Billybuc’s Photo Challenge #2

Shauna's preferred genre is fiction. She particularly enjoys rising to a challenge posed by fellow artists.

Abandoned lodge

Abandoned lodge

Nestled amongst clusters of pines at the foot of the mountain, the lodge seemed out of place. In the eerie silence of Winter, the aging building seemed devoid of life. No cars. No humans. No tracks. No wildlife.

As a newbie travel reporter for The Chronicle, my first assignment was to find an out-of-the-way destination, spend some time there, and tell my readers why the area should be a go-to for adventure, relaxation, and the perfect getaway.

This place certainly fit the out-of-the-way bill, but I wasn’t so sure of it being the perfect getaway. Something felt off. To be honest, the place and the silence that surrounded it, gave me the heebie-jeebies.

But I was determined to prove to my bosses that they’d chosen the right reporter for their dying newspaper. It needed new life in this age of electronic fact finding to stay alive. And I was hell bent to revive a dying industry. At least in my little town of Harvest Bay.

Harvest Bay Marina (fictional name)

Harvest Bay Marina (fictional name)

I remember the day I first arrived in this quaint coastal town. I had become weary of the hustle and bustle of the east coast. The paper I’d been with for decades was offering retirement options to many of their older reporters. You see, the newspaper industry has become archaic. Subscriptions have plummeted as the Internet provides more and more highways of information, for free. News can now be read on the fly. And today’s society seems to always be in a hurry. These days, who takes time out of their day to sit down with a cup of coffee and leisurely read the newspaper? Not many, sad to say.

So, after much soul-searching, I decided to accept my paper’s offer of voluntary retirement with a generous lump sum payment as incentive. I took the opportunity to uproot myself and head for someplace that wasn’t so driven to leave behind the mores I grew up with. Someplace more laid back. Someplace where life is simpler, and people appreciate the little things in life.

I ultimately decided to move to the Pacific Northwest. I’d read a lot about the area and liked what I learned. As it turned out, The Chronicle, in Harvest Bay, Washington was looking for a travel reporter who could breathe life into the paper and increase readership. I met with the editor at a restaurant overlooking the marina to discuss the position and how I could help.

Thankfully, the interview went well and here I am.

View from my office

View from my office

My office has a breathtaking view of distant snow-capped mountains across from the river. To me, the scene presents an opportunity to explore destinations unknown.

My mind went to work.

I headed down the hall and gently rapped on the open door.

“You got a minute, Bill?”

“Sure, what’s up, Ben?”

“Well, I have an idea for a story. You challenged me to find an out-of-the-way destination as the subject for my first article. Since I’m new here, I have lots to explore. Those mountains over there seem to be a good place to start.”

“Not much over there, Ben, but streams and trails, but I think you may have something. Only thing is, I can’t afford to send a camera crew with you, but I can give you a company credit card, arrange for your travel, and place your deadline for…say three weeks from Monday.”

“Perfect. I’m a pretty good photographer myself, so I can take care of that end of the story. Three weeks should be plenty of time for me to discover the area with a fresh set of eyes and objective perspective. I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest with you, Bill.”

“Alrighty then, let’s set the ball in motion. The only way over there is by boat. I’ll arrange for that and let you know when to meet your ride at the marina.”

As it turned out, launch time was the next day at 9:00 a.m. I busied myself the night before by packing my gear, my camera, a notepad, some munchies, and plenty of warm clothing to accommodate the cooler temperatures I’d encounter once I got to the other side.

Peaceful, meandering river

Peaceful, meandering river

I met the captain of the privately chartered boat at 8:45 the next morning. He helped me load my gear, gave me a life preserver, and informed me that I should be to my destination in about an hour.

In order to not miss a single photo opportunity, I kept my camera with me, along with pen and paper to jot down notes, if needed.

The ride was peaceful, relaxing, and breathtaking. As we slowly meandered along the river, the sounds of nature came to life. Large water birds flapped their wings overhead, then skidded effortlessly across the water to catch prey they’d spied from above. The rippling sound barely broke the serenity of the picturesque setting. Occasionally, fish could be heard jumping out of the water as they expertly performed an airborne dance. Chirps, gurgles, and songs were audible from the path of trees outlining our travels.

Change in vegetation at my destination

Change in vegetation at my destination

As we neared the valley below the mountains, vegetation became denser and the river narrowed. We had gone as far as the boat could go. Before turning back, Captain Rick remined me that cell phone signals would be sporadic at best. Therefore, he was scheduled to pick me up at the drop off spot exactly two weeks from today. That would give me a week to get my story finalized and ready for publication by the three-week deadline.

I disembarked, thanked the Captain, and set out for wherever my gut took me on this journey.

After about an hour of hiking through brush and high grasses, I came upon a clearing. That’s when I saw the lodge that appeared to have been abandoned.

I felt a sense of unease settle over me as I made my way to the lone building. The silence was eerie and a bit unnerving. However, I’d come this far. The only way to go was forward. I was determined to complete my mission.

As I neared the building, I noticed all the windows had been boarded up. I wonder how long this place has stood here like this? I mused to myself. I made my way to the front door, taking note of the complete silence that laid so heavily in the air.

Taking hold of my trepidation, I depressed the door handle and found it to be unlocked. However, it took some heave-ho on my part to open the door. Once inside, I found complete darkness, so I left the door open in order to gather my bearing. Off to the right was a small table with a lantern. When I turned the knob on the lantern, it came to life. Complete surprise to me, but a welcome one.

With lantern in hand, I explored the area. It was apparent no one had been here in a very long time. Dust and cobwebs everywhere. I made my way down the hall where I found a small kitchen to the right. No gas. No chance. I’ll have to fend for myself. But how is a city boy supposed to do that?

Farther down the hall, I found a bedroom that appeared to be somewhat habitable. I laid down my gear, then eased myself onto the bed and fell asleep.

I was startled awake by a presence in the room. At the foot of the bed sat an old man. For unknown reasons, I wasn’t afraid. As I sat up, he began to speak.

I suppose you’re wondering why this place is all closed up. Well, I’ll tell ya, I been waitin' for a brave soul to come here to help me tell my story. Oh, where are my manners? My name is Hank. Hank Pervill. This used to be my family home.

I was rapt with attention, but felt he needed to continue without any interruption from me.

Fifty years ago today, in fact, my entire family was here celebratin’ my 75th birthday. Sistas, brothas, kids, grandkids, great grandkids – they was all here. We had a good ole time tellin’ stories, playin' games, an’ eatin’ good food. We partook until well into the wee hours of the mornin', then tucked ourselves in for the night.

When I woke up, I din’t hear no sounds, so I went to check on ever’one. They was all in their beds. And all was dead. I have no idea what happened to them or why they was dead and I was alive.

I set about buryin’ each and ever’ one of them aroun’ this prop’ty. I’m sure you’ve notice that they ain’t no sounds ‘round here, nor no critters. That’s ‘cuz I think somethin’ evil took my fam’ly away from me.

I’ve been settin’ here ever since waitin’ for someone to tell my story to. Now you here. Now mebbe I can join my fam’ly and rest with them. I’m so tired.

I was completely aghast and enthralled at the same time. They say everything happens for a reason. My being let go from the paper back east and my getting this assignment clear across the country, is kismet. Of that I have no doubt.

For the rest of my stay, I never saw Hank again. But I did manage to get photos of him and the surrounding property.

On the day I hiked back down to my pick-up point, wildlife was rampant around the lodge and its property.

The cycle of life had been restored.

Boy, did I have a story to tell!

© 2020 Shauna L Bowling

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